It looked like Chris Sale would never be the same again after last season, but a change of scenery has rejuvenated the left-hander. Is that all it was? We take a deeper look.

Chris Sale seemed to be standing at a crossroads after the 2023 season.

Was it possible he just might never be completely healthy again? Would he need to move to the bullpen in order to extend his career?

Sale’s tenure with the Boston Red Sox began in dominant fashion and included him recording the final out of the 2018 World Series. But it ended in disappointment when he was traded to the Atlanta Braves in December for a modest return of infield prospect Vaughn Grissom.

In fact, the Red Sox were so ready to be done with Sale they agreed to pay the Braves $17 million as part of the deal. On Jan. 4, Atlanta turned around and signed its new starting pitcher to a two-year, $38 million extension that will pay him $16 million this year and $22 million in 2025, but his 2024 salary is canceled out by Boston’s generous contribution.

That’s because the former star had made only 11 starts total between the 2021 and 2022 seasons due to various injuries, including a broken wrist suffered in a bike accident that ended his ’22 campaign. Then in 2023, he had a 4.30 ERA and 1.31 home runs allowed per nine innings – the second highest mark of his career – over 20 starts while dealing with shoulder issues.

After going 99-59 with a 2.91 ERA over 207 starts while earning seven straight All-Star appearances with the Chicago White Sox and Red Sox between 2012-18, the lefty went just 17-18 with a 4.16 ERA over 56 starts during an injury-ravaged stretch between 2019-23.

“Ups and downs, man. Life,” Sale told reporters of his tenure in Boston. “Best days of my life were there. Worst days of my life were there.”  

Chris Sale comps

When he was traded in the offseason, The Athletic wrote that Sale had gone from ace to albatross upon signing a five-year, $145 million contract extension before the 2019 season. And that he had become unavailable, unreliable and overpaid.

But given a fresh start in Atlanta, the Lakeland, Florida, and Florida Gulf Coast University product has recaptured the glory days that seemed to be gone forever. He’s headed to the All-Star Game and deserving of the starting consideration once again with an 11-3 record and a 2.71 ERA.  

He’s also in contention for the pitching Triple Crown, ranking first in the National League in wins and third in both ERA and strikeouts. The NL hasn’t had a pitching Triple Crown winner since Clayton Kershaw led the league with 21 wins, a 2.28 ERA and 248 strikeouts for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2011.

Sale, who was dubbed “The Condor” early in his career because of his unique throwing motion, has gotten better as the season has gone on, allowing two runs or fewer in 11 of his last 12 outings. But how has the 35-year-old southpaw put together his best season in five years?

Of course, it all starts with his availability as he’s tied for 18th in the NL in innings (99.2) heading into Tuesday’s outing against the Arizona Diamondbacks and is on pace to make his most starts since a career high-tying 32 in 2017.

“The No. 1 thing for me is health,” Sale told “I had to get strong again.”

But also, Sale’s slider is harder, better and he’s using it more than ever in his career. The average velocity on the pitch is up a tick at 78.6 mph in 2024 from 77.8 a year ago. Below, he pumps it up to 81 while painting the black against Jorge Soler of the San Francisco Giants.

It’s unhittable.

Raw value is a metric that examines performance (discipline, contact, damage done upon contact) throughout each pitch of an at-bat rather than just batting average. For the rate version (RV-), the major league average is 100, with the lower, the better for pitchers. Command+ measures how well a pitcher hits the location he intends to hit (the higher the better), while whiff+ measures how good he is at generating swings and misses (again, the higher the better).

According to that advanced data, Sale has elite marks on his slider this season: a raw value- of 26, command+ of 121 and whiff+ of 136. In comparison, he posted above-average marks in 2023 but not nearly as dominant – a 60, 102 and 111, respectively.

In fact, Sale’s slider has been the most valuable pitch in the majors this season with an accumulated RV of minus-15.0.

most valuable pitches

So perhaps it’s no coincidence Sale is throwing the slider more than his four-seam fastball for only the second time in his career (he also did this in 2019), but at a career-high 39.8% clip. In 2023, Sale threw his four-seamer 43.2% of the time and the slider 37.5%.  

That’s pretty ironic since Sale’s former team has been one of the leaders in the “breaking balls are harder to hit than fastballs, so throw more breaking balls” movement.

But Sale also has made a noticeable adjustment in the way he tries to put hitters away. Though he threw the changeup 13.0% of the time in 2023, that dropped to 5.7% once he got two strikes on a batter. And for the most part, that was only against right-handers.

This season, Sale is going to his changeup 15.0% of the time with two strikes, including 17.2% against righties.

And it certainly helps that Sale’s velocity overall has returned. We mentioned the uptick on his slider, but he’s also averaging 94.7 mph on his four-seamer this season after ending up at 93.9 in 2023, 94.9 in 2022 (only two starts), 93.6 in 2021 and 93.4 in 2019. (He did not pitch in 2020.)   

As a result, Sale ranks second in total RV (-21.6), seventh in command+ (113) and second in strike+ (118), which measures the ability to generate both swinging and called strikes. It’s quite an improvement over 2023 when he had -12.8 total RV, a command+ of 106 and a strike+ of 111.

Getting healthy is one thing, but staying healthy will be the next challenge for Sale. If he does, an NL Cy Young Award and some postseason starts could be the reward.  

Be sure to check out all our MLBNBA and NFL coverage. And follow us on X and Instagram for more!